As bank mergers loom, PSB contractual workers stare at job losses

Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman had assured that no permanent employee would lose their job. Contractual workers have no such luck
At 43, Kudrati Khuda Mullick is no longer eligible for most competitive examinations, but has cleared written tests for recruitment in seven central and state government services. An MA in English, Mullick had even cleared the final test for appointment as a clerk at the state directorate of agriculture services. However, a last-minute dispute led to the cancellation of the exam. In 2014, Mullick finally made peace with a job as a security guard at a public sector bank (PSB) ATM on the outskirts of Kolkata.

But his fortunes changed earlier this year. For the last one and a half months, Mullick has been jobless. A wave of retrenchment in ATMs has led to layoffs. Nevertheless, Mullick still attends to the ATM everyday as the association fighting for the retrenchments has advised him so.

What is more worrying for Mullick's fraternity is the proposed mega merger of PSBs, which is likely to further squeeze contractual jobs in the banking sector.

“After the merger, there is a high possibility of more retrenchments of contractual employees. The government has assured only permanent workers of no job loss. Neither the government, nor the bank management has given us any assurance,” said Syed Md. Sahabuddin, general secretary, Bengal Provincial Banks' Contract Employees' Association.

According to the head of a PSB set to be merged, job losses in the contractual segment are"a cause of serious concern". 

Contractual workers in housekeeping, security and lift operations, are among those likely to bear the brunt. The job losses are likely to be more in regions where all banks to be amalgamated have high presence, said a banker.

For example, in the east, both Punjab National Bank and United Bank of India, have many branches. In the merger, a number of the offices, branches and ATMs are likely to be rationalised. Punjab National Bank, Oriental Bank of Commerce, and United Bank of India are slated to be amalgamated. Again, some disruption is likely to be caused by transfers, as support contractual staffs like drivers might lose their jobs.

Much of the current wave of retrenchment of contractual employees is limited to ATMs. In June, the Reserve Bank of India advised all banks to roll out e-surveillance mechanism in all the ATMs in the country, with the aim to ensure timely alerts and quick response.

Most PSBs have already been closing down ATMs, as well as doing away with security guards in the existing ones. While a full-time security guard in an ATM costs about Rs 40,000-50,000 a month, the monthly cost of e-surveillance comes at around Rs 5000-15000.

According to data from RBI, between June 2017 and June 2019, the total number of offsite and onsite ATMs in the country came down by about 2,275.

According to Bengal Provincial Banks' Contract Employee Association, over 6,400 ATM security guards lost their jobs in West Bengal alone.

Only West Bengal has an organization for contractual bank workers. In other states, there are umbrella body to ascertain the number of job losses.

Vikram Singh, chairman, Central Association of Private Security Industry, said, “With the merger, more jobs could be lost. Many security companies, including several start-ups are forced to shut shops due to this massive onslaught."

However, according to Rituraj Sinha, chairman, Ficci, private security community, most security guards are getting absorbed in other sectors. 

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